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2011 Capital One Bowl Preview

Nebraska Cornhuskers vs South Carolina Gamecocks

The Nebraska Cornhuskers and South Carolina Gamecocks wouldn’t be playing on the second day of January if the structure of college football had remained the same over the past few years. These two schools owe their rendezvous in the Capital One Bowl to the fact that collegiate athletics has experienced such profound change over the past 18 months.

Within the larger bowl structure, there’s only one tie-in which pits an SEC team against a Big 12 team, and that’s the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Moreover, that matchup almost always involves a team from the SEC West Division, given the fact that SEC West teams are located closer to Dallas than SEC East squads. The Capital One Bowl, in Orlando, is in position to take from the Big Ten Conference and the snowbirds who want to fly to the Sunshine State for a little sun and fun. The point is clear: As long as Nebraska remained in the Big 12, it was hard to see how the Cornhuskers would ever meet South Carolina, an SEC East program, on the gridiron.

Everything changed last year, of course. Nebraska hopped from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, which meant that the Huskers - tired of what they felt were second-rate bowl arrangements such as a Holiday Bowl date with Washington of the Pac-10 – fell under consideration for matchups with SEC schools in the state of Florida. The Outback Bowl, played in Tampa, pits the SEC against the Big Ten, and the Capital One Bowl does as well. Since Michigan State played in last season’s Cap One Bowl, the organizers of the Cap One and Outback games worked to put Nebraska in Orlando this year, sending Michigan State to Tampa. South Carolina played in the 2009 Outback Bowl against Iowa and had made two straight Outback appearances earlier in the decade (in 2000 and 2001) against Ohio State. With that history in mind, the Capital One committee wanted the Gamecocks to come to Orlando, and as a result, this meeting with Nebraska has taken shape. NU’s move to the Big Ten is what ultimately made it possible.

In assessing this matchup, it’s striking how similar these teams are. Both quarterbacks – Taylor Martinez of Nebraska and Connor Shaw of South Carolina – are frail yet mobile quarterbacks who like to run but are vulnerable to big hits in the open field. Neither quarterback is a brilliant passer – though Shaw is decidedly better – and is therefore going to need to hit clutch throws, specifically on third down. The signal caller that can establish consistency as a passer will help his team a great deal on Jan. 2.

On defense, South Carolina figures to have an advantage. The Gamecocks’ defense has been more consistent in its ability to rush the passer, thanks to the prowess of Jadeveon Clowney and Melvin Ingram, two imposing defensive linemen who have made stacks of plays all season long. South Carolina’s ability to crash the Nebraska backfield could very well cause Martinez to panic. The Huskers’ ability to neutralize the Gamecocks’ pass rush with quarterback draws, flat passes, and other change-of-pace play calls from offensive coordinator Tim Beck will loom large inside the Citrus Bowl stadium.

It’s not as though Shaw and the rest of South Carolina’s offense are special; Shaw is still learning how to play the position after No. 1 starter Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team in October. However, when all is said and done, the ability of Taylor Martinez to handle pressure is ultimately going to decide this game, one way or another.

By: Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer

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